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Reflections on Memorial Day 2023


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American Greatness

Today, we celebrate Memorial Day. What does that mean? Unfortunately, for many citizens, it signifies just another three-day weekend, the beginning of the summer season, and an excuse for a weekend cook-out. Sadly, we have lost even the vestiges of the meaning of this holiday: a solemn time, serving both as catharsis for those who fought and survived, and to ensure that those who followed would not forget the sacrifice of those who died that the American republic might live.

Americans have forgotten how to honor their war heroes and to remember their war dead. As my friend and fellow Marine, “Bing” West observed several years ago in his remarkable book about Fallujah, No True Glory, stories of soldierly courage deserve “to be recorded and read by the next generation. Unsung, the noblest deed will die.”

What we now call Memorial Day was established by General John A. Logan’s “General Order No. 11″ of the Grand Army of the Republic dated May 5, 1868. This order reads in part: “The 30th day of May 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers and otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Logan’s order served to ratify a practice that was already widespread, both in the North and the South, in the years immediately following the Civil War.

Memorial Day should cause us to ask why Americans are willing to fight and die. In his book, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle, Glen Gray provided one answer: “Numberless soldiers have died, more or less willingly, not for country or honor or religious faith or for any other abstract good, but because they realized that by fleeing their posts and rescuing themselves, they would expose their companions to greater danger. Such loyalty to the group is the essence of fighting morale.”:snip:

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H. R. McMaster: The Soldiers I Remember

If we are to honor all those who’ve died in our names, we must remember each individual soul. On this Memorial Day, I pay tribute to Private First Class Joseph Knott…

H.R. McMaster

May 29, 2023

In World War II, America lost 291,557 military lives in combat. But, as Pulitzer Prize–winning author Rick Atkinson wrote, “each death is as unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint. The most critical lesson for every American is to understand, viscerally, that this vast host died one by one by one; to understand in your bones that they died for you.” 

Perhaps back then, it was easier for more Americans to feel that reality in their bones. These days, with a relatively small all-volunteer force, the American people are more distant from those who fight in their name.

Combat veterans suppress dreadful memories of battles, but never forget their comrades who fell alongside them one by one. Their countenances, often smiling or laughing, flash before our mind’s eye. I see them unexpectedly. Sometimes they come in waves. 


Two days later I eulogized Joseph, surrounded by his fellow cavalry troopers at our base in Baghdad. I wish that more Americans could witness combat memorials to the fallen so they could understand how fortunate we are to have selfless young men and women willing to fight and sacrifice in our name. Eighteen years later, I welcome Free Press readers back to that ceremony, with the speech I gave about Joseph.

We are here to honor and say goodbye to one of our Brave Rifles brothers, a great cavalry trooper and a fine man, Private First Class Joseph Knott. Private First Class Knott, like all of you, volunteered to serve his nation in time of war. On 17 April during operations in the South Baghdad area, he made the ultimate sacrifice to bring peace to this difficult region, defeat the forces of terrorism and hatred, and permit children, both in Iraq and in our own nation, to live free of fear. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and with his family—his father Jerry, his mother Pamela, his sisters Susan and Sheela, and his brother Jerry.

I then shared the reminiscences of Joseph from soldiers in our platoon. Grief shared is grief divided. 

Corporal Dillard recalled how “he strived for excellence in everything he did and always kept the morale of his fellow troopers high.”

Staff Sergeant Hodges, who I know has the highest standards, described Joseph as an “exemplary soldier. . . motivated and disciplined.” 

Specialist Bruce recalled that “everything he did, he put all of his energy into it and made sure it was done right.”

Sergeant Braxton recalled that “he was the type of person who would do everything he could to help the next person.” 

PFC Ryan said that PFC Knott “was always the one to make us laugh. He was always singing or looked like he was posing for a picture and smiling.”

Sergeant Harris said “he always had a smile on his face and served our country proudly.”

Military units conduct memorial services to renew their commitment to each other and the mission as well as mourn the loss of their comrades. I went on to highlight our responsibility to Joseph and his memory:

We should also draw strength from Joseph Knott’s example. I, for one, will do my best to follow his example—to put fellow troopers before myself, to do my very best to win this fight against terrorists and the enemies of freedom, to maintain my sense of humor and enjoy the company of my fellow troopers. If I could sing, I would sing louder. Today we honor PFC Joseph Knott with words as we pray for him and his family. I ask that tomorrow we all do our best to honor PFC Knott with our deeds as we continue to serve our nation in this great Regiment. 




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May 7, 2023

Mel Gibson and Hal Moore became good friends during the filming of the movie, We Were Soldiers. Mel even took time a few months before Moore passed away to make the trip to Auburn, AL to visit. We thank him for his kind words as Fort Benning is rededicated on May 11, 2023 and becomes Fort Moore in honor of LTG Hal and Julie Moore - both - honor military service as well as the silent sacrifice of the military family.

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